No. 543
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
October 18, 2021

Caroline Burned!

September 19, 2011
...
...

The "Memoirs" of Sir John Reresby (1634-1689) contain a reference to a minor witch trial which somehow morphed into one of the oddest "ghost" sightings on record: Leaving the public affairs for a while, at this untoward pass, I would venture to take notice of a private occurrence which made some noise at York. The assizes being there held on the 7th of March, 1686-7, an old woman was
More...
Strange Company - 10/18/2021
`
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Sometimes a painting has so much rich detail, it just knocks you out. That was my reaction to this magnificent scene of the Third Avenue Railroad Depot between 65th and 66th Streets, painted two years after the depot opened in 1857. Amazingly, the painter of this “precise representation” of the depot, William H. Schenck, was […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 10/18/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
A very anxious and excited man arrived at the jail in Ann Arbor, Michigan, around midnight, October 22, 1871. He told the jailer he was unwell and wanted to sleep in the jail that night. The jailor decided it was in everyone’s best interest to give him what he wanted. As he locked the cell door, the man burst out crying but would not say why. The following morning the jailor released him. The man
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 10/16/2021
First response from the Sourdough Associationto Jefferson R. Smith from Clara JohnsonJeff Smith collection(Click image to enlarge)     lease try to attend and thus forward the spirit of the Sourdough." Soapy Smith's son contacts the Sourdough Reunion, 1951      Seventy years ago, at some date previous to February 15, 1951, Soapy Smith's son, sixty-five year old Jefferson Randolph Smith III
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 9/17/2021
A Map of Woman's Heart | cialis large dose

Caroline Burned!

Destruction of thecCaroline Niagara River, December 19, 1837 - American steamship, Caroline, was burned by the British, and cut loose to plummet over Niagara Falls, [more]

In the years following the War of 1812, relations between the United States and Great Britain were relatively peaceful. But for many living along the border between the United States and Canada— from Vermont to Michigan—the war never really ended. On the Canadian side, rebel factions formed to liberate Canada from British rule. They were supported in the United States by private militia groups known as the Patriot Hunters. Tension continued to rise between the rebels and the British, until 1837 when the first major battle of, what would be known as the Patriot War, was fought.

In December1837, Canadian rebel leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, set up headquarters on Sailor Island, on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, and declared himself head of the provisional government of the Republic of Canada. The rebels were joined by at least 200 enthusiastic Americans. They set up artillery on the Island and began shelling the British at Fort Erie. To supply the forces with food and ammunition, the rebels employed the American owned steam ship, the Caroline.

The British Commander, Colonel Allen Napier McNabb, believed that a rebel invasion was imminent, and that the Caroline would be used in the invasion. He asked Captain Andrew Drew if he could cut out the Caroline. When Drew responded that nothing could be easier, McNabb said, “Well, go and do it.”

Drew called for volunteers who “would follow him to the devil.” He got many takers, and on the night of December 19, 1837, Drew led a group of sixty men in rowboats, across the Niagara River. Captain Drew and his men boarded the Caroline, and after a brief skirmish, during which Drew himself, killed Amos Durfee, an African American crewmember of the Caroline, the British took control of the ship. The sent the rest of the Caroline’s crew ashore, then cut it loose from the moorings. They set fires at four places on the ship, then towed it into the current, where it would be carried over Niagara Falls.

This is how the scene as described in 1839, in an American pamphlet titled, “An Address Delivered at Niagara Falls, on the evening of the twenty-ninth of December, 1838, the anniversary of the burning of the Caroline:”

“The scene now became one of awful sublimity. The Caroline was in flames, and the resistless flood was bearing on her on toward the cataract. As the fires curled about her, her engine began to work, by the heat of the burning vessel, and the pitchy flames threw a red glare on the wild scenery around her. It showed the wintry forest, and glowed upon the waters; it revealed the rebel island, and the barracks of the British soldiers. Onward the burning vessel was borne, and nearer and nearer the mighty precipice. From one side she was viewed with exultation; from the other, with deep threats of vengeance; and as she neared the foaming gulf, the hell of waters, they tell of dark forms that were seen amid the flames and of death shrieks, that rose shrill and piercing above the noise of the rushing waves. Still she rushed on, and still the scene increased in grandeur, until her burning timbers were extinguished by the flood, and a few blackened fragments, thrown up on the shore were all that remained of the ill-fated Caroline.”

Early reports said that the Caroline went over the falls with over a hundred men still aboard. In fact, the ship was empty; all except Amos Durfee had gotten off safely.

Neither the United States nor Great Britain was anxious for another confrontation so the matter was settled with discreet diplomacy. Captain Drew was tried in a New York State criminal court for the murder of Amos Durfee, but he was not convicted.

But the burning of the Caroline became a rallying cry for the people of New York State, and the ranks of the Patriot Hunters grew rapidly. Amos Durfee was the first casualty of the Patriot War; he would not be the last.

To be continued...


Sources:

Knickerbocker, or, New-York monthly magazine, Volume 13, Peabody, 1839

The Patriot War of 1837

 Raiders and Rebels